How to short-cut the Networking process

Networking is not for everyone. Whilst some accountants enjoy attending regular networking events, I regularly hear tales of woe from those who find it a frustrating waste of time.  There are also plenty of accountants who do not like the idea of chatting with strangers very appealing.

You will rarely meet someone at a networking event who is there to find a new accountant. So the process of moving from attending such events to winning new clients can be both time consuming and involved. How can you short-cut the process?

In this blog post I share an idea that could be a far more productive use of your time and less daunting too. It’s quite different to the tips and advice I have shared previously as to how you can get more value from the time you spend networking.


The primary reason most accountants attend networking events is typically to win new clients. A secondary objective might be to build relationships with influencers who then refer you on to their clients and contacts. This latter rationale is more likely to be successful in the short-term. Few new clients will choose to appoint a new accountant until they have built a degree of trust – certainly more than comes from a casual chat at a networking event.

The best client introductions

If you’ve been in practice a while you should know how you came to service your best clients. I’ll bet that most didn’t come through adverts, they didn’t come from people searching on the web and they didn’t come from social networking.  Sure, all of these activities might generate some work but your ‘best’ clients?  There will always be exceptions but most accountants typically say that their best clients were introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients.

The second best source tends to be other advisers who know, like and trust the accountant.  Often, but not always, these relationships were built up as a result of random meetings at networking events. But that’s not the only way to instigate them.

An alternative approach 

If you don’t like Networking with strangers you are not alone. Instead why not ask your favourite clients to introduce you to their other advisers?

Which lawyers and financial advisers do they trust? These are then the people whom you can contact and meet for a coffee. You want to get to know them better so that you can recommend other clients to them as and when this seems appropriate. After all if one good client has recommended them, then others may value their advice too.

During your conversations with these advisers you will also get the chance to talk about your practice. And you will also reference the clients you have helped besides the one you have in common with the adviser you are with.

In effect this approach enables you to short-cut the networking process. You don’t have to chat with random strangers at networking events; you aren’t reliant on stumbling across people who might know someone who might need a new accountant; and you don’t have to arrange a series of follow up meetings with strangers who may or may not be valuable additions to  your business circle.

Try it, you might like it.


Accountants CAN overcome a lack of inner confidence…..

All too often I encounter another accountant who is lacking in confidence. And this invariably holds them back from achieving the success they seek.

Just last week an accountant emailed me back after receiving a message I’d sent out on a totally different topic. Included in her reply was the following:

I know I lack a degree of confidence. I’m on my own, no mentor, no senior. This is daunting.

I’m not very good at small talk and sales patter.

I’m lacking confidence.

I have bags of ambition and drive.

I have a fantastic team of 3 ladies who I have personally trained and I have a huge office with potential for 10 desks.

I struggle to get new clients. I want to get things as right as I can from the outset and have not wished to take on loads more low value clients.

After thanking her for getting in touch I replied:

Stop putting yourself down and reinforcing the negative voices in your head.  You are NOT lacking in confidence.

You’ve started your own practice. You have taken office space sufficient for 10 desks. All of that takes a HUGE amount of belief (which is simply another word for confidence).  Well done!

And, as you say, you also have a huge amount of ambition and drive. I think perhaps you’re embarrassed by your confidence and you may be concerned it might come across as arrogance if you really let it out. I get that. And it’s good to avoid over doing the confidence.

I also wanted to direct her to some related advice I have shared previously. I was pretty certain I had addressed the issue of accountants and confidence before on this blog. But when I checked back most such posts related more to the problems of being over confident! So here is my further advice that should be of wider application and value.

It’s quite common

In conversation with accountants I am mentoring and with those who belong to The Inner Circle it is often obvious to me that a lack of confidence is causing them issues. Sometimes it prevents them making decisions that are then continually deferred, it makes them nervous about contacting certain clients and scared of quoting fully commercial fees.

One of the great pleasures of my work is that with a degree of understanding and encouragement from me, these same accountants grow in confidence. They tell me about how they are now able to quote fees they only dreamt about some months earlier and that clients are happy to pay them. They are proud to have refused to take on new clients who don’t want any advice; and they are excited by the future as they now know they can attract the sort of referrals and recommendations they always wanted.

There’s no magic involved(!) Building your confidence starts by accepting that you are better than you think when someone who knows you and knows enough other accountants (like me) tells you honestly that you’re at least as good as average – possibly better.

But you can also boost your confidence alone.

How to become more confident

Here’s a few tips I have encouraged accountants to adopt – and which I have been told have worked for them:

One popular technique is to get a character, toy or figurine to keep on your desk. Imagine them as your Positive Reinforcer (PR).  When that negative voice in your head saps your confidence, imagine your PR guy/gal encouraging you onwards.

Keep a note of every success. Each day, note down these Positive Reinforcements (PR) to remind you of when you make things go well,  so that you can focus on these – and NOT on the times when things don’t go so well.  Review your PR notes – especially before your next interaction with a client where your lack of confidence has previously weakened you.

Celebrate your achievements so that you spend less time dwelling on the other occasions which didn’t go so well, but which contained valuable lessons. Note them down as Positive Reinforcement (PR) of lessons learned.

Accept praise and compliments. You do deserve them. Do not dismiss them. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is very common in all walks of life. You do deserve the success you enjoy.

If all else fails, fake it. Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, act as if you do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how positively this can affect people’s reactions to you.  There’s also another good reason to practice faking confidence. I have also heard it said that the more you practice acting in a confident manner, the more it will increase your inner confidence.  Just ensure you don’t come across as arrogant. And also be careful you don’t give definitive advice when you are not really confident it is 100% correct.

Confidence is self-perpetuating. Once you have it, you can use it to push yourself to succeed, which will build your confidence even further.

Want some help?

My confidence in my own ability to help sole practitioners to become more successful has fluctuated over the years.

Back in 2006 I had a wider focus and initially listened to those of my friends and colleagues who told me that I was bound to be successful as a mentor and speaker. They boosted my ego by referencing my reputation, credibility and high profile in the profession. I was prepared to listen. But then it soon became clear that few people were beating a path to my door. My confidence plummeted.

Over the last few years I have had plenty of successes and I am now confident of the value I deliver to sole practitioner accountants. This is one of the reasons why I offer a very low cost entry level facility to experience my style and advice. But equally I offer premium level 1-2-1 mentoring support and advice. Part of the value accountants get from me, where appropriate, is help, support and encouragement to become more self confident in their interactions with prospects and clients.


A quick five point plan to secure more referrals for your accountancy practice

So many accountants tell me that most of their new clients come from word of mouth and client referrals. In most cases however this seems to be a function of luck rather than planned in any way.
Have you ever thought about how you could make it easier for your contacts to know who would make a good referral for you? And to encourage such referrals rather than simply waiting and hoping they will make such referrals?
Here is a quick 5 point plan that could help you in this regard:
  1. Identify just ten people (your Target Ten) who might know people who could be ideal referrals for you.  Your Target Ten might include some good clients, lawyers, bankers or other professionals with whom you have worked and established a mutually trusting relationship.
  2. Clarify what you would want your Target Ten to say when they are making referrals to you.  You may intend to make different requests of each of your Target Ten. In each case, think about ONE person (or type of person) not a shopping list of possibilities.  You will invariably get more specific and valuable referrals if you are specific.
  3. Craft a couple of stories about similar clients you have helped and how they felt about your service etc. Your Target Ten will find it easier to recall your request if they can link this to a story. Use the RUBIK acronym to check whether your story/request is likely to help generate referrals.
  4. Talk with your Target Ten to find out what you could do to help them. Yes, that’s right. BEFORE you ask for referrals, ask what you can do to help and then do it! Many of the people you offer to help will then ask you what they could do to help you. That’s when you share the information you noted down at steps 2 and 3.
  5. Keep the promises you make to help your Target Ten. After all, if you don’t keep your promises you can hardly expect others to do so either.

I should add what may be surprising news for you. No one really cares what you do as an accountant. What they care about is what you can do for them or for the people they know. Most of us find it easier to remember stories rather than bare facts. Telling stories about our clients (whilst retaining their confidence of course) can make it a lot easier to secure more of the referrals you would like.

The alternative is that you continue to secure only the same old random referrals – some of which are time wasters and some of which are wholly unsuitable for the practice you are seeking to build.

Do let me know how you get on with your Target Ten and how many ideal referrals follow from you following this process.

How to network without networking

During the course of my career I have attended hundreds of events where professionals and business people could network. More recently, since I went freelance in 2006, I have also attended many more generic and local business networking events. These are very different and are more likely to attract some inexperienced networkers whose prime objective is to promote and sell their service or product. Yuck!

I have also attended many other less obvious networking events such as:
– Receptions to launch a new product or service;
– Parties to celebrate a business anniversary, someone’s promotion or the fact that they have recently joined the organisation;
– Summer, Christmas or other seasonal excuses for a party.

In most cases the guest lists include dozens and sometimes hundreds of business associates, clients, prospective clients, other professionals and potential referrers.

All too often the organisers are not clear as to what they want to achieve by hosting the event.  The most common ‘reason’ seems to be either to ‘thank’ clients for their custom, to showcase new staff and services or merely to hope that by hosting such an event, more work and clients will, at some later stage, consequently be referred to the host organisation.

The professionals attending such events also often seem unclear as to their own objectives. Invariably there will be dozens of accountants, lawyers, bankers and others professionals present – all milling around chatting to people they already knew. There is also often a large sub-set of attendees who are evidently uncomfortable with the idea of talking to strangers. And I can always spot those who evidently promised to put in an appearance but leave early to go home or somewhere else they will feel more comfortable.

Many people who struggle with networking misunderstand what it’s really about. As a result they are uncomfortable talking to anyone new at networking events. This is such a shame and can lead to resentment, wasted time and wasted opportunities. At it’s simplest, networking simply means finding and getting to know other business people whom you could help and who could help you. This generally only happens after you have developed some rapport; hence the idea of getting to know, like and trust each other.

Over the years I have researched, collated and shared much information on the subject of networking. By all accounts it is something I do successfully. Even when I was in practice I regularly taught and mentored colleagues to help them and the firm to gain more benefit from their networking activities. Since 2006 this has also been a regular topic in my talks, blogs, articles and masterclasses.

Many authors and speakers on ‘Networking’ seem to focus on what to do at events that are publicised as being specifically arranged to permit small businesses to network with each other. My approach is more focused on helping acountants to network effectively in a business context.

If you would like to discuss how I could supercharge the networking abilities of your team, do get in touch.


How’s business? – Avoid falling in the trap when you reply

If you’re either a busy accountant and/or a regular at networking events, you probably get asked this question all of the time. You may also be asked by friends and family, ex-colleagues and prospective clients as well as by your bank manager, suppliers and potential advocates.

How carefully have you thought about the way that you answer this question? Did you realise that, completely unwittingly, the person who asks the question is setting you a BIG TRAP?

You probably want to avoid jumping in with both feet.

What’s the trap?
Quite simply it’s either implying that you’ve no time for more work or that you’re no good in any event.

It’s easiest to see the trap when someone else jumps in.

Imagine you’ve just met me for the first time in a few years. You’re aware that I am keen to present my keynote talks at conferences and events for accountants in the UK.  You may even have received my weekly Magic of Success email or visited this blog. After the initial introductions you look me in the eye and you ask me, “So Mark, How’s business?”

How would you react if I gave you one of the following answers?

– It’s great thanks. I’m really busy; or
– Really good thanks – I’ve got loads on; or
– Fabulous thanks for asking. I’m flat out.

If you’re like most people you’d be pleased or relieved by my response. But what would your reaction be as regards referring conference organisers and anyone else who might want a speaker for their event to me? What if a day or two later you met the managing partner of 20 partner firm of accountants who was frustrated by the lack of relevance or credibility most speakers have to his firm?  Or you meet one of the team who are organising a conference intended to attract accountants? Would you think of suggesting that either of them contacted me? [I certainly hope that you’d do exactly that as I’d love to help them and to speak at their events.]

Or would you think something like – There’s no point in recommending Mark – he’s already got plenty of work? Even though you probably know that I would love you to recommend me in such situations, you might be hesitant. Please don’t be as there’s plenty of room in my pipeline and I thrive on referrals 😉

Can you see the trap now?
If you tell people you’re busy you can discourage them from referring or passing work to you. It matters not that it’s your automatic response; that you weren’t thinking when you said it. The word ‘busy’ or any inference that you have plenty of work is often enough to put off people passing more work your way. They may well think to themselves: “Shame. I was going to refer some work to you, but now I’m not sure that you’d give them enough time and attention.”

Clearly there’s a need for balance here. The other way of falling into the trap is if your answer is something along the lines:

– Not so good at the moment, it’s a bit quiet; or
– Still plenty of space for new clients; or
– Thanks for asking – I could do with some more referrals please.

Again, if you’re like most people you might well wonder ‘why’ business is not that good and wonder how much of a risk you might be taking if you refer work to someone in such a situation. You might think: “How can he/she be any good if they don’t have much on at the moment?

Years ago an entrepreneurial marketing guru, Chris Frederickson, suggested that a good answer to the question “How’s business?” was: “Business is great and we’re looking for more!”

I tried that for a while but it seemed a bit too ‘American’ for me. For some years when I was in practice my reply was more along the lines “Everything seems to be going really well at the moment; I’ve plenty of work, largely from referrals, and still scope for more.”

But I’ll bet you’ve got some even better ideas. So tell me: How’s business?



Ten ways accountants can network at conferences

With Accountex around the corner you might think this piece is aimed at accountants planning to attend what looks set to be the biggest and best exhibition and conference accountants have seen in the UK for many years.

It is. But the ten tips are equally applicable whenever you attend conferences for accountants and tax advisers.  I often wonder how many attendees make the most of the available networking opportunities?

Perhaps we should first clarify what we mean by ‘networking’ in this context. It is not simply chatting aimlessly with other delegates seated next to you or whom you bump into in the queue for tea or lunch. It also doesn’t mean cornering each of the speakers and embarrassing them into giving you free advice – whether or not this is related to the subject matter of their talks.

  1. Beforehand – Check out the programme or show guide and decide whether there is anyone speaking with whom you would like to grab 5 minutes. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve done it to others. If you approach someone the right way you may even get to have a coffee/lunch with them on the day.
  2. Practice your replies to the most likely questions that the speakers and other delegates will ask you. And plan to move the conversation on from talking about the trains, venue, weather and your practice. For example: Why are you interested in a specific session or speaker? What have you found the biggest problem with HMRC recently? Are you doing anything specific to attract new clients? Or to help clients resist the lure of new accountants? If there’s a question you might want to ask, make sure you can answer the obvious rejoiner: “And what are you doing about it in your practice?”
  3. Make sure you will have some business cards with you (and that they are easily accessible in your pocket or handbag) but don’t pass them out unless someone asks for yours – or if you have an unusual name that people often mishear.
  4. Plan your travel arrangements so that you can arrive early and do not need to leave promptly.
  5. To get the most out of the networking opportunities, aim to arrive in time for the start of the registration period.
  6. During the talks, think about questions you can ask fellow delegates once you move beyond mere pleasantries. You might for example, want to know whether topics mentioned by speakers which are new to you, are also new to others. Have they already tried any of those things mentioned by the last speaker? What happens when you do that in practice? Strike up conversations with the people you are sitting close to, standing next to in queues and whom you see standing alone. They may be shy but otherwise just as interesting to talk with as anyone else. And they will probably appreciate your interest as long as you have decent conversational skills.
  7. Make a point of visiting the exhibition stands but, if you are not a decision make for your firm, try to avoid wasting the time of the people manning the stand. Of course if the stand is empty or the staff look especially lonely they may appreciate a cheery hello even if you are not a real prospect for them. And, anyway, you never know when you might be in the market for the services or products on offer.
  8. If you have a specific reason to follow up with people you meet, be open about this and ask for their business card. I make notes on the back of cards (where there is room) to remind me why I wanted them and what I have promised to do for each person. You could alternatively rely on your memory and ask if the other person is on Linkedin.
  9. I make it a point these days to check out most people I meet on Linkedin anyway. You can do the same after the event and ask them to connect with you. Make sure you personalise the connection request and mention where you met. This is good etiquette and likely to get more positive responses than simply sending the standard bland Linkedin connection request.
  10. Finally, if you are considering changing firms, you may find that you can find out more about how others operate by talking to fellow delegates. Do ensure that you avoid coming across as disloyal, desperate or boring. You never know who will be involved in the recruitment process. Fellow delegates may be in a position to help or to hinder your move.



Can you answer these 3 questions when out networking?

If we focus only on what we can get from a networking situation we are likely to be disappointed more often than not. On the other hand if we focus on how we can help those we meet two things happen.

Firstly the pressure is off and it’s easier to enjoy the event. Secondly we are perceived as more interesting – because we are more interested in the people we are with. This is a simple fact of life. As a result we are likely to get more value from the networking event.

Here are THREE questions to ask people you meet when you’re networking:

1. “What is your expertise?” You want to know more than the fact they are a solicitor or even an employment lawyer. How would they like you to remember them as compared with the other employment lawyers you meet?

2. “What sort of thing are you working on at the moment?” – This can also help make them more memorable as compared with other people you know in a similar line;

3. “What should I listen out for when I’m with other people so that I can say ‘aha – I should introduce them to you’?”

If you obtain answers to these questions, you will have identified how the person you asked can help you, or people you know, because you will know what they do.

By knowing what sort of thing they are working on you have an idea of what they are currently doing and at what level, and by asking how you can best identify potentially useful referral opportunities, you are providing some pro-active help, for which they will remember you.

Back to the title of this blog:

How would you respond if you were asked these, or similar, questions? Think about how much more memorable and referable you will be if you are ready and able to share this sort of information. Good luck.


What Networking IS and what it is NOT

At its heart, networking involves meeting up with people in the hope that you will build profitable relationships with them. The emphasis is likely to be on building business relationships but social and even romantic ones could develop too I suppose. Many of the same principles apply whether you are networking online or in real life.

My friend, Richard White (author of the Networking Survival Guide) liked to think of networking as ‘net’ working. “We build up a network of useful connections and resources and at the same time we build a net in which land sales-leads in the same way that people use a net for fishing.”

The network that we build starts with those people who already know us and who think positively about us. It is worth remembering that it will invariably be easier to grow an existing network than to start one from scratch.

Those accountants who secure business as a result of their networking activity rarely do so after their initial attempts to network. Valuable business leads and opportunities typically only start to flow after new connections have grown to know, like and trust you. That takes time and invariably more than one or two meetings.

What networking is NOT

Many people, including many accountants, make the mistaken assumption that networking is all about ‘selling’. They couldn’t be more wrong. This is clearly very different from casting your ‘net’ for sales leads.

Many accountants who think networking is a waste of time do so because they started with an unrealistic expectation. Typically this is that their networking would enable them to immediately generate sales leads from the people they meet at networking events. As explained above, this is rarely going to happen in practice so any aspiration along these lines is doomed to disappoint.

I heard recently of a local Chamber of Commerce that was suffering significant member ‘churn’. The reason was that everyone who joined and who attended their networking events was in sales mode. Imagine a room full of salespeople all trying to generate sales leads but none of them there to find suppliers or to buy anything. No wonder members were dissatisfied and leaving – only to be replaced by new members who would repeat the cycle.


Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand

My friend Andy Lopata is a networking strategy consultant.   I’m not sure that anyone else looks at networking in quite such a scientific way. He talks about the strategy you adopt as in who you choose to network with and how you can ensure that you get maximum benefit from your networking. This is crucially a function of the extent to which you follow up, but there’s a great deal more to it than that.

Talking to Andy recently I was reminded of an earlier posting on this blog in which I referred to old colleague of mine who would go to lunch or have coffee with anyone, any time. He suffered from what I called the ‘you never know’ syndrome.  He thought that it was worth attending all and any networking functions and lunches as ‘you never know’ when or where the next piece of work would come from. If time were unlimited this might not be a bad ploy.

In practice we need to either be more discerning or to maximise the prospect of getting value from the ‘you never know’ meetings we fix up. So how can we do that?

There are two basic ways:

1. Pre-qualify

This effectively involves gathering a little info so as to enable you to pre-judge the person. If you value your time and/or you’ve plenty of work flows then you can afford to limit yourself to meeting up with people who fit certain criteria. These will vary depending upon your business and your service offerings.

2. Effective follow-up

My old colleague did very little by way of follow up so as to build on or develop new contacts. he sent an immediate thank you note but beyond that, not a lot. At best the business cards he collected were added to the firm’s marketing database. So his new contacts received newsletters and ‘Budget’ booklets each year. I doubt this is the most effective way to keep in touch (and have explained my reasons on the TaxBuzz blog: Overnight Budget commentaries – what’s the point?).

To improve the value of such encounters I have suggested that it’s important to follow up.  And when is the best time to do that? Well, you need to start BEFORE your first meeting and you also need to do it DURING the meeting. That way you can do it most effectively AFTER the meeting.

Before the meeting, check that you know what booklets, newsletters, info sheets, leaflets and freebies you (or your firm) produce and which might be of interest to the person you are meeting. If you don’t have any such things you may want to spend a few minutes, perhaps even on your way to the meeting, thinking about how you followed up on the last meeting you had with a similar contact (eg: another solicitor, IFA, banker or whatever).
During the meeting, listen to what your new contact is talking about and try to find a relevant time to indicate that you have something in the office that you think they will find of interest. Promise to send it to them when you get back to the office. It isn’t critical to identify what it is you will send them and you will rarely be asked either!
After the meeting, follow through on your promise. Don’t just send a bland ‘thank you for lunch’ note. Fulfil the commitment you made. Evidence your trustworthiness.

Keep track and make a note to follow up AGAIN a few weeks later. Send something else, even if it’s just a link to a website item or blog entry that you have seen and which you thought they might appreciate as it relates in some way to your conversation at the meeting. (You did make a note of those key topics on the back of their business card so you could remember this didn’t you?)

This approach to Follow Up will repay dividends and make those ‘you never know’ lunches, coffees and meetings far more likely to generate some valuable follow up for you.